Cabinet expands powers of Turkel Commission

Members can subpoena witnesses and hear testimony under oath, but can’t question soldiers, security forces.

Flotilla Committee 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner)
Flotilla Committee 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner)
The cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved a motion to extend the powers of the Turkel Commission, appointed to investigate aspects of the flotilla seizure of May 31, to include authority to subpoena witnesses and hear testimony under oath.
However, the motion stressed that despite the expansion of the commission’s prerogatives, it will not be allowed to question soldiers or other members of the security forces.
Following the vote, the Prime Minister’s Office issued the following statement: “The government approved this morning the expansion of the prerogatives of the Public Committee to Investigate the Events of the Flotilla. The motion was approved without objections.
The prerogatives include the right to subpoena witnesses and have them testify under oath. The decision does not apply to IDF soldiers and safeguards the independence of the military investigatory institutions.”
The motion does not mention the expansion of the commission from three members to five, as former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel demanded along with his demands to extend its powers. According to reports, the government is having trouble finding two qualified people who are prepared to join the panel, which currently consists of Turkel, international law expert Shabtai Rosenne and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Horev.
The government also did not change the commission’s terms of reference, which were drafted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in consultation with Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.
Meanwhile, Uri Avnery, head of the left-wing Gush Shalom movement, which has petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding the dismantling of the Turkel Commission and its replacement by a state commission of inquiry whose members would be appointed by the Supreme Court president, said in response to the cabinet’s decision that the government has “gone from a little farce to a big farce.”
Avnery told The Jerusalem Post he would not withdraw his petition because the fact that Netanyahu appointed the members of the commission “predetermined its findings.”
He also said that the commission’s mandate was insufficient.
In its mandate, the commission was asked to examine the security circumstances surrounding the imposition of the naval blockade and the conformity of the blockade with international law, the conformity of the IDF operation on May 31 with international law, the actions taken by the flotilla organizers and whether the mechanism for investigating allegations of violations of the laws of war by Israel are in keeping with Israel’s obligations under international law.
Avnery said the commission should investigate all aspects of the flotilla affair from the moment Israel imposed the sea blockade on the Gaza Strip, how the decision to “attack” the flotilla was taken and by whom, the planning of the operation by the IDF and how the operation was carried out.
Avnery added that the Turks involved in the flotilla seizure should also testify before the commission. He said they would agree to do so if the commission were appointed by the Supreme Court president and included international observers.